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Hot Tuna to kick off Steamboat Free Summer Concert Series

Nicole Inglis
Jorma Kaukonen, right, and Jack Casady, formerly of Jefferson Airplane, will kick off the 20th season of the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series tonight with Hot Tuna. Missed the Boat opens the show at 5 p.m.
Courtesy Photo

— To Jack Casady, the past is no matter on stage.

Whether it’s Woodstock in 1969, or the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series stage in 2011, the power of the moment wins over the legendary bass player every single time.

“That night that you’re on stage, that night you’re playing, has to be the night,” Casady said. “You live in the moment on stage. That’s the most important thing. The history has nothing to do with what you’re doing that night. That’s what live music is about.”

Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, famous for their stint leading psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, began the blues-rock band Hot Tuna as a side project in 1969.

Although the name might not be as recognizable as the cultural phenomenon Airplane, Hot Tuna has survived long past the demise of the psychedelic era.

“The phenomena that built around Airplane and the (Grateful) Dead at the time was something that never could have been foreseen by any record executive,” Casady said. “There was all of that going on, and sometimes that overwhelmed the music. Our feeling was, let’s get back to why we got into the music industry in the first place, and that was the music.”

Hot Tuna opens the 20th anniversary season of the Free Summer Concert Series tonight at Howelsen Hill. Local folk rockers Missed the Boat opens the show at 5 p.m.

Series promoter and booking agent Jon Waldman said the organizers had been chasing Hot Tuna for years, trying to find a way to fit the band into the series.

But this year, the timing was right for the band to come through Steamboat.

“I think it’s a great act to have to kick off the 20th anniversary,” Waldman said. “They’re legendary.”

Waldman said even though the younger generation might not know Casady and Kaukonen by face or by their famed picking styles, the show will be an experience for all.

“Their blues rock feel, I think, transcends a number of generations,” he said. “Even though a younger crowd may not be familiar with it, the music they’ll hear, they’ll love.”

Hot Tuna began as a blues outfit, a way for Casady and Kaukonen to transcend the politicization of music in the 1970s.

Casady himself wore the round glasses and the tie-dyed shirts and kept his hair long in the style of the times. But he never felt it was essential to live up to certain aesthetic standards.

“I remember some guy coming up to me once — he said I was a traitor for cutting my hair,” Casady recalled. “It was so important for him that I keep the look of the politics of the time. I thought to myself, ‘This is just as confining as that which we were all purported to be escaping from at the time.’”

So it didn’t matter that as the styles changed, the politics evolved and culture pushed forward, because music, by definition, is fluid in time.

“You’re dealing with time as it moves,” Casady said. “Once that beat goes by, you’re done with it; you move on to the next beat. It’s really an odd art form.”

Casady said he’s been playing more than 150 shows every year since the band started, but a recent album release in April has shown the industry that Hot Tuna has no plans to go anywhere. “Steady As She Goes” is the band’s first studio effort in 20 years.

For Casady, there was no intention of waiting that long. But as he’s lived his music career, it was all about waiting for the right moment.

The band, which includes Casady, Kaukonen, Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin and Scoota Warner on drums, explores everything from roots music and ballads to traditional blues and Appalachian influences.

And despite the connections the audience might make to Casady in the ’60s, to Airplane and the psychedelic rock era, when Casady takes the stage, it won’t matter one bit to him.

“I’m going to come to Steamboat Springs and stand on stage and have people in front of me and play and plug into an amp and that audience, as sophisticated as it may be, is still going to be in the moment and listening,” he said. “It’s still music.”


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